Roman, early Imperial Period, ca. 1st to 2nd century CE. A cast bronze vessel in the form of a naturalistic scallop or cockle shell, its body textured with undulating ridges that flow outward from the curved-over ocellus on the dorsal portion of the bowl. The vessel stands on a diminutive disc foot and has a curved handle attached with two hooks to the dorsal side. A slightly rolled lip forms a rim around the top of the vessel. Shell symbolism in the Classical World related to the goddess Venus (Aphrodite to the Greeks). Size: 6.4" W x 2.1" H (16.3 cm x 5.3 cm)
Vessels of this style from the Roman period are most well known from Pompeii and other towns in the vicinity of Mt. Vesuvius, although a few examples have been found in Gaul and beyond Roman territory in Germany. They are most frequently found in bronze and silver, although there are a few known glass examples too. They were manufactured in Campania, but their purpose is not well known. They may have been used to bake bread, or to serve food. Alternately, they may have been used for drawing water for bathing or holding toiletries - the shell motif is common on fountains and other water basins inside domestic spaces. Representations of Venus often show her holding a basin in the shape of a shell; there are also bronze statuettes of Cupid holding out a shell vessel to Venus.
Published in: J. L. Zimmermann, "Collection de la Fondation Thétis," Geneva, 1987, p. 75, no. 174.
Provenance: ex private Manhattan, New York, USA collection; ex Thetis Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland; ex Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, UK, 23 May 1991, lot 58; ex Herbert A. Cahn, Basel, Switzerland
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